Tuning into teens
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Lena Engel
Worked as an Ofsted Early Years Inspector for Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Supported teachers in schools to improve outcomes for children’s learning, and written for Nursery World Magazine. She trains, assesses and mentors early years practitioners, and offers advice and guidance to parents.
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Teenage behaviour

How to help your teenager deal with their anger

During adolescence the teenage brain undergoes significant development and rewiring as well as being bathed in sex hormones. The frontal cortex, that promotes reflection, planning and seeing things rationally, is not fully developed until at least the age of 20. Anger is a common emotion and parents of teenagers need strategies to support their teenager through this sometimes turbulent phase of life.
In Short
Teenagers’ brains are not fully developed and they may struggle to regulate emotions, reflect and see other people's point of view at times.

Teenagers often display externalising and internalising evidence of anger. This includes taking part in a variety of behaviours to escape their increasing feelings of anger and aggression.

Keeping the lines of calm communication open is key. Try side by side talking, offering support and listening (without trying to solve the problem immediately). Mindfulness exercises can help both you and your teenager with anger.

If you are concerned, speak to your doctor or a trusted teacher for advice.

What are teenage anger issues?

As your child goes through his teenage years, you’ll probably watch them experiencing lots of new or heightened emotions. Read our article on the amazing teenage brain to help you understand what causes this overload of emotion and seeming lack of restraint or logic. Anger will be one of the emotions that you’re likely to see coming out more regularly, less logically and with more strength.

Symptoms of anger in teenagers

There are lots of symptoms of teenage anger, but these are some of the common ones. You may remember them yourself!

  • Egging people on or winding them up.
  • Shouting.
  • Losing control.
  • Hitting or physically hurting other people.
  • Breaking things.
Effects of anger on teenagers

If teenagers are experiencing anger, they may try to escape it by:

  • Using drugs or alcohol.
  • Isolating themselves.
  • Self-harming.
  • Feeling depressed.
  • Engaging in risky behaviour.
  • Eating problems.
Try to work out what the problem is and open communication

Teenagers’ anger may be caused by something specific – such as friend or boyfriend/girlfriend problems or issues at school or home. Or it may stem from a more general feeling that they feel misunderstood by you or teachers.

Teenagers are heading into a very different world than childhood. They may be feeling confusion arising from puberty or sexuality, or may be dealing with effects from abuse from someone in their life.

There are a lot of things you can do as a parent to try to support and help an angry teen.

Side by side talking with your teenager

Steven Biddulph, the Australian child psychologist, suggests “side to side” talking with teenagers. This means getting yourself in a situation where you are side by side and not sitting face to face, which can feel confrontational. Try chatting while you’re sitting next to your teenager or in a car. Or standing in the kitchen preparing food. Or taking the dog for a walk – or just walking to the shops.

Listen and let them know you are there to support them

Ask lots of questions – try to understand the bigger picture. Don’t start by suggesting solutions to a “problem” you don’t know about yet. Listen – a lot – before you start trying to solve things. Make it very clear you are there to support them.

Some examples of conversation starters

It’s a tricky conversation to start. Your teenager is likely to be defensive and may want to argue immediately or leave. Try to choose a time where you’re side to side, doing something, and you are calm. You will probably need to plan this time in advance. Don’t try to have the conversation when you’re arguing.

Here are a few starters that you might like to consider and make your own.

You seem to be unhappy at the moment. You don’t have to talk to me about it. If you’re okay and can manage on your own, I respect that. But if you are unhappy we can talk anytime you feel like it.
If you don’t want to talk to me about it, there are plenty of other people you could talk to.
You may not be interested in help right now, but I’ll always be willing to help you, or help you find someone other than me to help you, if and when you want it.

Your teenager may respond with anger or annoyance. When you’re working hard to be helpful, and you’re met with hostility, it’s tempting to strike back. Try to resist that impulse.

It might be your teenager appears not to listen or makes a point of telling you your advice isn’t needed or helpful. Or they may just stomp off. But then again they may listen, or may think about it later without telling you. Don’t expect thanks – just do your best to get your message of support across.

Try some mindfulness exercises – for you as well as them

If your teenager is listening and willing to try things, you could suggest some simple mindfulness techniques. These can also be very helpful for you in dealing with your anger which may arise in reaction to that of your teenager’s. It’s really important that you keep your anger under control if you expect your teenager to try to reduce their own.

As a first step, you can both think about recognising the early stages of anger – for example, where teeth clench, shoulders tense, hearts pump faster, and so on. These things are useful signals that you are getting angry, and it may help you both to recognise the situation while it’s still in the early stages.

If you can do this, you and your teenager can start some simple mindfulness techniques such as counting breaths, feeling the weight of your body as you breathe in and out, listening quietly to your breath – or just tuning into the effects that the anger is having on your bodies and trying to work through it.

Try to understand your teenager’s brain isn’t the same as yours

Teenagers don’t have the same fully developed mental equipment as an adult. Even though they can use long words and have intellectual debates, their brains are not as good as adults’ brains at regulating emotion.

Their amygdala’s which regulates emotions are relatively larger than the pre-frontal cortex, which controls them. Understanding this will help you see why your teenager can’t “just” pull themselves together in the way an adult can. Read our article on emotion coaching for teenagers for more practice advice.

Teenagers also struggle to read other people’s facial emotions and can sometimes jump to the wrong conclusions about other people’s feelings and motivations.

It will help if you ‘name to tame’ emotions when you talk to your teenager. So describe your feelings as a way to prevent misunderstandings and try to keep the lines of communications open.

Know when to seek help

If you feel talking to your teenager isn’t working, and you’re are concerned about their anger leading to other issues such as aggression, self-harm, isolation, depression or anxiety – it might be that you need to seek professional help.

You could consider talking to your family doctor and also speak in private to a supportive teacher at school as they may have dealt with these issues before and will guide you how to access other support or mental health services for young people.

If you would like to contact Lena for one-on-one advice for children aged 0 – 19 years, please email her on Lenahelpsparents@gmail.com.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.